hawaiian pineapple on the big island

14 Best Foods to Try in Hawaii: Big Island Must Eats!

If you’re looking for all the best foods to try while visiting Hawaii, you’ve come to the right place. We love Hawaii and we love trying new foods. Here are 14 Big Island must eats (you should these try no matter which Hawaiian island you visit!) From traditional Hawaiian foods to delicious Hawaiian desserts, interesting Hawaiian snack ideas, and fun food themed souvenirs in Hawaii – you’ll find all of our favorites here.

Big Island Must Eats, Hawaii Map

1. Ahi Tuna Poke Bowl

Our number one favorite food to eat on the big island is fresh poke! Poke (pronouned poh-KAY) literally means “chunk” or “to cut into chunks” in Hawaiian. It’s generally raw tuna marinated with soy sauce and sesame oil and onion. However, there are many delicious variations of poke that can be found across the island. You can almost always find poke at grocery stores and most restaurants serve some version of a poke bowl on their menu. Some of the best poke on the big island is at Umeke’s. We also ate poke several times at Island Gourmet Market right next to where we were staying. Look for the fresh stuff and you can’t go wrong!

Best Poke Big Island? Umeke’s!

poke bowl from umekes on the big island hawaii

2. Shave Ice Big Island

Our favorite must eat dessert on the big island of Hawaii? Shave ice, hands down! Hawaiian shave ice is a treat that both kids and adults will love. And trust me, if you’re not a big fan of “snow cones” from the mainland, you need to give this shave ice a try – it’s not even close to the same. I would highly recommend getting yours with ice cream on the bottom and cream on the top. We also try to get the fresh fruit flavors (like coconut, mango, pineapple) instead of the artificial ones (like tigers blood or blue raspberry) for a more authentic tasting treat. If you’re looking for the best shave ice on the big island, we loved The Original Big Island Shave Ice Company (OBISIC) and Gecko Girlz.

Best shaved ice big island? Original Big Island Shave Ice Company (OBISIC)

3. Loco Moco

Loco Moco is a must try food on your trip to Hawaii. Traditional loco moco consists of white rice, topped with a hamburger, a fried egg, and brown gravy. It may sound a little weird but it’s absolutely delicious and a fun Hawaiian breakfast to try. Lucky for you, you can find this dish on the menu of most local restaurants. We haven’t actually had a loco moco dish that we didn’t enjoy yet, and the big island loco moco was no exception. Loco moco originated in Hilo, so if you want a special experience, try it first where it originated!

loco moco with waffle fries from ono loa island grill hawaii

4. Mai Tai

If you enjoy a tropical cocktail, make sure to try a Mai Tai while in Hawaii. While the Mai Tai didn’t technically originate in Hawaii, there isn’t a more iconic Hawaiian drink in my mind. And let’s be honest – a Mai Tai on the beach in Hawaii is just a million times better than on the mainland. Looking for a Mai Tai and incredible atmosphere, look no further than the Lava Lava Beach Club. If you’re looking for an affordable and delicious happy hour Mai Tai, head to the Island Lava Java. And lastly if you want a Mai Tai with local Big Island made rum, go to the Kuleana Rum Shack (they also have happy hour). Cheers!

5. Fresh Fruit

Fresh local fruit is a refreshing and healthy snack to try while visiting the island of Hawaii. I’ve provided a list of common fruits grown in Hawaii and which season they grow. However, a good way to figure out what is in season is to stop at any local fruit stand or farmers market to buy produce. Hawaii has several exotic fruits that I don’t usually see at the grocery store in Washington, and they taste way better when they are locally grown.

Check out this post for a list of local farmers markets on the big island! They also have a map so you can find a farmers market near you wherever you are staying on the big island.

Fall fruit in Hawaii: citrus, passionfruit, starfruit, dragon fruit
Winter fruit in Hawaii: citrus, mangosteen, rambutan, breadfruit
Spring fruit in Hawaii: avocado, lychee, mangosteen
Summer fruit in Hawaii: avocado, dragon fruit, lychee, mango, passionfruit
Fruit to eat year round in Hawaii: coconuts, papaya, pineapple

6. Malasadas

Another mouth watering dessert to try in Hawaii is Malasadas, fried dough served with different fillings or dipping sauces. We first had malasadas when we visited Leonard’s Bakery on the island of Oahu and wanted to make sure we got a taste again on the big island! We tried a variety of different malasadas from Island Gourmet Market in Waikoloa including Ube Mochi, Mango Mochi, Lilikoi, and more. Word on the street is that the best malasadas on the big island are at Tex Drive In. We didn’t get to make it here, but we’ll add it to the long list of things we’re going to be doing when we visit the island of Hawaii again.

Best Malasadas Big Island? Tex Drive In! (from everyone we’ve talked to!)

malasadas from kuleana rum shack hawaii

7. Kalua Pork

Another meat dish you have to try while visiting the big island is kalua pork. In Hawaiian, the work kalua translates to “to cook in an underground oven”. And if you’ve ever been to a luau you may have gotten to witness this special ritual (and gotten to enjoy the delicious meal afterwards). The pork can also be prepared by different methods, but this is just one of those foods that tastes so much better in Hawaii. And you definitely don’t have to attend a luau to find kalua pork. Many restaurants will have this available in some form or another – especially the authentic Hawaiian food local restaurants.

8. Kona Coffee

Kona coffee is one of the world’s rarest coffee beans because they are ONLY grown in the Kona region of the big island! These coffee cherries are hand picked, which makes harvesting Kona coffee a laborious process. Kona coffee can be expensive ($45-$60 per pound), but it’s definitely worth it for the delicious cup of coffee that you get to enjoy. If you’re looking for an amazing souvenir for your caffeine loving friend, bring them home some Kona coffee and you will be their new favorite person.

The best way to experience Kona coffee is to tour the coffee plantations to see this process yourself (you’ll also usually get the freshest cup of coffee!). You will likely see cheaper versions of Kona coffee in stores, but be aware this only has to be 10% Kona coffee to be labeled as such. However, if you’re on a budget, these blends still taste great and can be a fun souvenir as well. Or if you can’t afford to buy a whole thing to take home, find a local coffee shop that uses 100% Kona coffee and try a cup that way.

9. Pancakes or Waffles

Pancakes in Hawaii are a must try and if you’re in Hilo, you’ll want to stop at Ken’s House of Pancakes. Ken’s is a great place to grab breakfast where you’ll find both tourists and locals. It opened it’s doors in 1971 and has continued to be a mainstay on the big island – especially if you want great pancakes and a cool diner feel with friendly servers. We tried the banana macadamia nut waffle and it was well worth the stop. They even have “sumo” size portions if you’re THAT hungry!

Another fun souvenir to bring home is some pancake mix. We found a few different variety of pancake mixes like Lilkoi, Strawberry Guava, and more at one of the local souvenir shops.

banana macadamia nut waffle from kens house of pancake

10. Fresh Pineapple

If you’ve ever had a delicious, juicy pineapple while in Hawaii, you’ve probably had a hard time going back to your regular old pineapple at home. Pineapples are grown year round in Hawaii and Hawaii produces almost a third of the entire world’s crop as well as 60 percent of its canned products. It’s hard to believe that pineapples are not actually native to Hawaii (they are thought to have originated in South America) because they are so plentiful and incredibly tasty. Our baby Hudson got to try pineapple for the first time in Hawaii!! If you want an even more unique snack in Hawaii, add some Li Hing Mui Powder to your pineapple. Li Hing Mui Powder is made from dried plums that have been pickled in a mixture of salt, sugar, and licorice. You’ll give your pineapple an extra sweet, sour, and salty flavor that is something like you’ve never tasted!

fresh pineapple in hawaii

11. Acai Bowl

The Brazilian super fruit Acai is a huge thing in the islands of Hawaii. It’s loaded with antioxidants, and can be a refreshing and healthy breakfast before you hit the beach. Acai bowls are basically like smoothies in a bowl, and can be topped with a variety of things including coconut, granola, fresh fruit, nut butters, or really anything! We didn’t actually get the chance to eat one on the big island, but we’ve had them every other trip to Hawaii.

12. Haupia Ice Cream

You will likely see several different options for Haupia flavored items around the islands. Haupia is a classic Hawaiian dessert, a coconut pudding, that usually comes in cuboid shape and a jello like consistency. This is worth trying if you see some; however, the real star of the show is haupia flavored ice cream. We saw this a lot at shave ice places, and it’s the best served under a large serving of tropical flavored shave ice. Enjoy!

13. Spam Musubi

Spam musubi is an iconic Hawaii snack that you probably won’t see many other places. Hawaii consumes the most spam per capita, which started to become popular during World War II. So what is spam musubi? It is a slice of grilled spam with rice and wrapped in Nori. This is the perfect quick Hawaiian snack to try. You can even find spam musubi at most gas stations! While eating spam might seem a little bit odd if you haven’t tried it – it’s actually surprisingly tasty!! As a bonus, it’s one of the cheapest snacks on this list of Big Island must eats.

spam musubi

14. Ube Flavored Something

One of our favorites from this list of Big Island must eats! Ube is a purple yam, originally from the Phillipines, but very popular in Hawaii. This tuber is even sweeter than the orange sweet potatoes that you’re probably used to eating at home. It also gives a beautiful purple hue to the different foods made with it. You will likely see a variety of ube flavored desserts like shave ice, cocktails, pastries, and even coffee (we were so excited to find this!) Dane loves ube so much, we saw a sign for an ube latte at HiCo and we had to try it. Spoiler alert – it was absolutely DELICIOUS!!

15. Plate Lunch

The Hawaiian plate lunch is the quintessential Hawaiian meal. It’s reminiscent of the bento box or a meat and BBQ plate you could find in the Southern US. This meal usually includes meat (often kalua pork), rice, and macaroni salad. Don’t expect a fancy plate, this usually comes in a to go container. The Hawaiian plate lunch started as a popular meal option for Hawaiian workers on pineapple and sugar plantations. Now, they can be found in many local Hawaiian restaurants and food trucks.

We hope you enjoy this lists of Big Island Must Eats. Aloha!

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